Marriage counseling in mid-20th century Hungary: a failed social hygiene policy or the rise of “state socialist” biopolitics?

Open to the Public
Nador u. 11
Hanak Room
Academic Area: 
Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 5:30pm
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Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 5:30pm to 7:00pm

We are pleased to announce the third lecture of this semester in the series "History Department Scholarly & Social Meeting", Marriage counseling in mid-20th century Hungary: a failed social hygiene policy or the rise of "state socialist" biopolitics? by Gabor Szegedi.

Law No. XV of 1941 is an infamous piece of legislation in Hungarian history. It introduced a prohibition of marriages between Jews and non-Jews and the concept of "race defilement" in the same way as the 1935 Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor. It is much less known that this law introduced a system of mandatory premarital health checks in Hungary. That is, on paper, if one wanted to get married, they had to undergo a medical examination and attest that they were free of certain infectious diseases. The anti-Semitic provisions of the law were only in force until 1945 but the story of health certificates continued until 1952.

The question in the title of this talk is rhetorical and my answer is perhaps easy-to-guess: both. The argumentation will therefore go in two directions: on one level, I will claim, Hungarian marriage counseling was by and large a failure (especially when compared with some Central European and U.S. initiatives) as marriage counseling encountered a great deal of resistance, mostly because of the nature of sexual politics in interwar Hungary. On another level, however, it was a milestone in what I have called "state socialist" biopolitics. Aside from locating Hungarian marriage counseling in a European context and pointing to the various understandings of the concept, I will use it as case study for this "state socialist" or "authoritarian" path of biopolitics. I will argue that Hungary took this road in the second half of the 1930s and so in terms of public health the post-1949 Hungarian Socialist State had much to build upon. I will try to draw up a number of characteristics that discern this version of biopower both from the exercise of biopolitics in democratic states and in totalitarian ones.